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Gimmie the Stimmy: College Students Reflect on Economic Hardship During the Pandemic

By Brandon Bush

One of the most popular topics of conversation is the distribution of the next “stimmy” or stimulus check. Since the start of the pandemic last year, there has been much debate about government-sanctioned stimulus relief due to the financial hardships that many people are facing across the nation. This was an especially hot topic for college students.

Amid the many negative parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, finances and the lack thereof was a huge part of this. College students were one of the hard-hit populations as many young adults across the nation were forced off-campus and had to move back home with their parents. Some people did not have their parents to fall back on. After having to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for flights or train tickets home, storage units to put up dorm supplies and clothes they could not pack, or having to quickly find off-campus arrangements with little to no work or pay during lockdown, many students were left with very little in their bank accounts.

The CARES Act of 2020, passed by the 116th Congress, designated $2.2 trillion to distribute to people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Americans received $1,200 in funds from the federal government, and some received an additional $500 if they claimed dependents on their tax returns. However, many college students were unable to receive funds due to restrictions in the CARES Act. A student is ineligible for the stimulus if they can be claimed as a dependent and if they are being claimed, they have to qualify as a child (17 or under) to receive the additional funds. This means that not only were college students excluded from the policy’s language but it was also unlikely that they would pocket any of the stimulus relief it provided to support themselves.

The second CARES Act of 2021 allowed for dependents to collect the $1,400 allotted to all eligible Americans, which was a win in the eyes of some college students. Yet, there is still some dissension on the amount of money and frequency of stimulus relief being given, its accessibility to students during the pandemic and how it is affecting them.

“Once the pandemic first started, I moved in with my sister,” said Kimyatta Newby (They/She), a rising sophomore at Howard University. “Because I didn’t get anything the first time, I wasn’t able to help with bills, groceries, stuff like that. Now that I have [stimulus relief], either I’m gonna save it to help my sister or I’m gonna save it when [Howard University] bills me again next semester or save it towards moving.” 

According to a weekly Household Pulse Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, most people are spending their relief on necessities such as food, bills and household goods, or they are putting their money towards savings. This highlights the very real and grim reality for college students. Instead of spending their money on leisure and luxury items or services, they are focused on trying to survive during a time where very little support is being offered.

“I didn’t get one,” said Caleb Brown, a rising senior at Howard University. “It really sucks because there’s been a lot of things I’ve had to pay for in this time. Significant things like, besides just food, I moved to [Washington, D.C.] in January so we have rent and stuff, and just paying for things that come with taking care of an apartment. There has been so much of that.” 

The survey also reported that approximately 36% of people in the U.S. with some college credit or an associate degree reported that they find it either somewhat difficult or very difficult to pay for household expenses during the coronavirus pandemic: “I don’t have my parent’s money. That’s theirs. They’re the ones making the money. I don’t have any of that. I could use the stimulus, but it’s whatever, unfortunately,” Brown exclaimed.

The efficacy of stimulus relief has been in question since the beginning of the pandemic due to the lack of accessibility, the amount of money distributed and the frequency of distribution. Newby adds, “[the stimulus checks] are bills. It doesn’t cover much.” 

They went on to discuss how the money has been important to temporarily help those in need but the government has failed to develop a long-term plan to address the inevitable financial impact the pandemic has had. Americans are simply being given enough for only a few months worth of groceries or a month’s worth of rent.

“I have to take another step up and have to help with family, my sister and siblings, and a bunch of other things,” Newby said. “It’s putting a pause on people’s lives but it’s also… propelling people forward in having to provide amongst many other things. It’s stressful.”

Brown critiqued the federal government’s seeming willingness to prioritize military funding over ensuring the financial stability of all American citizens. 

“There are people in this country who are starving – people who were starving before this pandemic started – and now it’s a pandemic and a lot of people can’t work. They’re getting kicked out of their homes,” said Brown. “Can we look inward for a little bit and not worry about everybody else?” 

This concern comes from the news that $696 billion will be designated to the Pentagon for internal and defense operations. Whatever the public’s stance may be, it is clear that people are still in need of help and are looking to government officials to make a change that is needed to help their everyday constituents survive.

The response to the stimulus checks is mixed at best, but it nonetheless illustrates that students are one of many populations that have had to bear the brunt of the negative financial impacts of the pandemic. It is safe to say that many have been put into a very tight spot financially, which may limit their ability to support themselves or others during one of the most economically challenging periods in American history. 

Brown cautioned, “If [ the COVID-19 pandemic] ends and it’s taking the economy a minute to bounce back, they may need to keep sending out checks to people. They may need to keep sending out checks to people anyways because some people have lost their jobs and it’s gonna take them a minute – when things truly open up – to get another job.”

The impact of public policy and its effects on the lives of every citizen in the U.S. is something to keep in mind as politicians consider future legislation. Historically overlooked populations, such as racial minorities, the working class and young people, can face consequences that could cost them a meal, their homes, or – in more extreme cases – their lives.

“As Black people, it definitely was just like ‘yes, we can stay in our house for another day’ and that’s the sad part because it probably postponed other people’s demise, if anything, at best,” said Newby. “But it definitely didn’t change anybody’s life. It could’ve gotten somebody’s hotel for another three, four nights and that’s cool. Some people don’t have addresses to write down so some of them didn’t even receive a stimulus and that’s a big thing because the people who truly need it, don’t have the opportunities to get it.”

It has yet to be seen if there will be another stimulus relief bill passed to federally assist American citizens for the duration of the pandemic. However, should one come in the future, the voices of college students should be centralized and prioritized.

Kesi Felton

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